Get That Jive (P Hewson) and April Sun In Cuba (P Hewson/ M Hunter) 1977 and Are You Old Enough? (P Hewson/M Hunter) – Dragon 1978
Todd Hunter and his younger brother Marc were born into a musical family in the 1950’s in Taumaranui, New Zealand, their mother was Fijian and their house was always filled with music and harmonising, family members played piano and guitar and family functions inevitably resulted in the current radio hits becoming a communal sing-a-long. Todd went to teachers college in Hamilton in 1970 where he hooked up with other musicians, guitarist Ray Goodwin and drummer Div Vercoe, with whom he formed the band OK Dinghy. It was one of many bands Todd was a part of before he moved to Auckland in 1973 and lived at the infamous “Mandrax Mansions” at 87 St. Mary’s Rd., so-named after the drugs of choice of its tenants. In Dragon’s early years, with Marc now the front man, the band released their trippy, psychedelic rock debut Universal Radio in 1974, with the 11- minute Patina, a trance-inducing highlight; a year later came Scented Gardens for the Blind. “Dragon started out as an acid jam band. Our job was just to play 24 hours a day,” Todd recalled, “but it all evolved, although we didn’t know how to write great songs until Paul Hewson (below) joined the band.”
Guitarist Robert Taylor would replace Ray Goodwin and immediately contributed the swaggering pop of Bob’s Budgie Boogie, the band then headed for Sydney in May 1975, Paul Hewson, who was married with family, would subsequently join them later that year. “Paul was an incredibly talented guy and he just started writing songs,” remembers Todd Hunter. “But at the time it was weird because they were bright, shiny pop songs – and there was something about them that made them want to be played on the radio – but the band were a horrible bunch of ugly blokes”.
When the band relocated to Sydney and before they recorded their breakthrough top 20 Australian single Get That Jive, the lineup was below from left to right Kerry Jacobsen (drums) who had replaced Neil Storey, a victim of a drug overdose in 1975, Robert Taylor (guitar), Marc Hunter (lead vocals), Todd Hunter (bass), and Paul Hewson (keyboards). The band would quickly establish a fan base at the Bondi Lifesaver Hotel, play support on a Status Quo tour of Australia, and tour the national pub circuit intensively.
Producer Peter Dawkins managed to extract a convincing pop sound from the band on their Australian debut album Sunshine, from which the tight and funky Get That Jive was lifted onto the charts at #13 in ’77. This was the start of a two-year chart blitz by the band , that would showcase the songwriting talents of the erudite but drug-addicted Paul Hewson, and the charismatic, but dangerously debauched persona of swaggering front man Marc Hunter.
April Sun In Cuba was the first single lifted off the band’s second Australian album, Running Free, and the inspiration for the song was a quote by American chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer, that he had lost a game of chess because his Russian opponent, Boris Spassky, had contrived for him to sit in a position where he had the sun in his eyes, during a match in Havana, Cuba in the 1960’s. The tension between Russia and the West dramatically increased after Fischer accused the Russians of playing as a team to defeat players from the west. Statistical analysis revealed that Russian players Petrosian, Geller, and Keres deliberately drew games against each other to conserve their energy against non-Russian players, and actively assisted fellow Russian players with strategic advice and adjournment tactics throughout matches against players from the West. In 2002 the Head of the Russian Chess Team at the time, Yuri Azerbakh, confirmed that Russian grandmasters had in fact colluded and cheated to defeat non-Russian players in the 1960’s and 70’s.
Hewson was a serious chess player and had already penned an album track entitled The Dreaded Maroczy Blind, inspired by a pawn formation gambit devised by the Hungarian grandmaster Geza Maroczy of which he was aware.
Like the Cold War across the chessboard that Fischer and his many Russian opponents engaged in throughout the 60’s and 70’s, April Sun in Cuba has an intriguing cold war vibe to it as well, which was further evoked by lyrical references to JFK, Fidel Castro, and the Cuban Missile Crisis which resulted in the record being banned in the USA for several years.
The song was penned by Paul Hewson using Harvey James (Sherbet) guitar while sitting on the back porch of their share house in Paddington (Syd). Marc Hunter later added some lyrics and melody to create the iconic song “We recorded April Sun in Cuba in Melbourne in early 1977,” says Todd Hunter “The band had a bad car accident that had been a very close call for Robert Taylor and Paul Hewson. When we were recording the backing track, I distinctly remember looking around the studio and thinking we were a bunch of bedraggled, bandaged and neck-braced casualties, recording this bright and shiny pop song – I think that more or less sums up the 70’s for us.”
The song melds the arrogant energy of libertine front man Marc Hunter with an opening stop-start polka tempo, a real earworm of a hook and highly inventive musical accompaniment, merging latin influences with Caribbean cadences and jungle sound effects, which were added to the record by producer Peter Dawkins after the band had departed the studio, apparently much to their chagrin.
The lyrics are brilliantly cryptic and invite interpretation – “Snake eyes on the paradise (or was it the pair of dice, as in two ones?)”, and ” See Castro in the alley way/ Talkin’ ’bout missile love…”. Russell Mulcahy produced the promo clip and the record charted #2 nationally, blocked from the top position by a bagpipe blitz from Paul McCartney’s tartan tribute song, Mull of Kintyre. April Sun In Cuba should have been an international smash hit, instead it became an Ausmusic classic.
Marc Hunter and Dragon wanted to be the Lou Reed and Velvet Underground of the Antipodes, but ultimately became pop stars and the subject of teenybopper adulation. Hunter projected the devilish charm and charisma of a rock star, and had the cocky strut of the arrogant and talented front man that he was. But he could be quite disdainful of his audience, occasionally whipping them with a riding crop or selecting a young female fan to join him on stage to participate in a mock-rape routine.
This translated into a potentially lethal rock lifestyle, that was dangerous, substance-dependent, and ultimately fatalistic, Are You Old Enough would come to exemplify the exploitive sexuality of Dragon’s lyrics, as they teetered on the edge of condoning statutory rape, and musing on how an ex-convict could avoid detection if attracted to girls they described as “jail bait.”
Ten years in the jailer’s eye/ And I’m thinking ’bout my baby/ Looking at my life go by,” contraversial references to indiscriminate sex with minors under the age of consent were liberally sprinkled through the chorus “I just wanted to kiss someone/ I got the moon dog blues/ You just happened to be standing there/ So won’t you tell me the truth/ Are you old enough?”
The topic of underage sex has fascinated composers for many years, and what consitutes statutory rape depends on the prevailing legislation in each location. But there are many notable examples of popular songs that have thrown the rule book out the window and even boasted about it – Sweet Little Sixteen (Chuck Berry), Your Sixteen (You’re Beautiful And Your Mine) (Johnny Burnette and Ringo Starr), Young Girl (Gary Puckett and the Union Gap), Don’t Stand So Close To Me (Police), Stray Cat Blues (Rolling Stones), Oh Carol (Smokie), Hot Child In The City (Nick Gilder), Walk This Way (Aerosmithj), etc.
Todd Hunter has recounted how his brother Marc and bandmate Paul Hewson were having a holiday on Magnetic Island (Qld.) in the middle of a national tour, when they went into a local music shop and bought a $20 guitar, hired a small boat, sailed off over the horizon with a couple of local girls, and what unfolded on that trip, became the inspiration for the song.
The pointed lyrics of Are You Old Enough did not go unnoticed by the young female fans in the audience at the Countdown studio, who added a side chorus to the song “Are you old enough/ it’s Ok/ Are you old enough/ you can trust me”. Mark Hunter was reportedly surprised by the complicit chant which had clearly been rehearsed, which also confirmed the band’s popularity and the extent to which their fans identified with its message. It became Dragon’s only #1 hit, assisted by uncredited harmony backing vocals from Renee Geyer, and the album from which it was lifted, O Zambezi became their biggest-selling album when it climbed to #3 in September 1978.
Are You Old Enough confirmed that bands should never overestimate what constitutes bad taste if you can wrap a song in a catchy hook and a sing-a-long chorus. This wasn’t the only time that a Dragon song teetered on the edge of endorsing underage sex, as a cursory check of the lyrics of 1978’s Still In Love With You, their follow up to Are You Old Enough will confirm – “You say you’d call me up/ When you get out of school/ But you know that’s a lie/ You’re so cruel so cruel.”
Are You Old Enough was the 14th biggest-selling record of the year and became the theme music for the 2012 production of the TV series Puberty Blues, the promo video was a time capsule of 1970’s Melbourne with Marc Hunter wandering through the city’s streets and alleyways.
Drummer Neil Storey (1976), songwriter/keyboardist Paul Hewson (1985), and songwriter/lead singer Marc Hunter (1998), all ultimately succumbed to the fatal attractions of the rock “n” roll lifestyle.